Pet Pampering: Spa Time for your Best Friend




“How is this dog still walking?” asked Ruth Ihlenfeldt’s veterinarian after looking at hip x-rays of Ihlenfeldt’s beloved twelve-year-old dog Tory. But Ihlenfeldt’s dog is not only still walking but is also in good spirits, and no longer requires canine pain reliever. Instead of watching Tory limp around from hip dysplasia, Ihlenfeldt is spending time enjoying her dog’s pain-free activity because of help from owner and massage practitioner Cindy Hickman of Aquadog Spa in Kent, Washington. Ihlenfeldt says, “I have been able to keep Tory from having surgery, keep her away from traditional medicines that can have damaging side effects, and keep her healthy and happy.” Ihlenfeldt is not the only one to take advantage of the multitude of pet spa benefits. Pet spa facilities are becoming a common way to help, heal, and relax your pet. It’s time to ditch the dry biscuits and reward your pup with a trip to the doggy spa instead.

If you are a frequent spa-goer, you’re well aware of the benefits of a day at the spa. The soothing and healing therapies, however, can be equally beneficial for your pet. Not that the touch of your hand isn’t enough, but your four-legged friend would be equally grateful for some professional TLC. When it comes to unwinding and relaxing, you may think your pet doesn’t know the difference between the living room rug and the massage mat at your local pet spa, but you’d be wrong. Just like the relaxed daze that you fall into during your spa treatments, it doesn’t take long for your pet to warm up to the idea of a spa. Often pet spas begin their sessions with a consult or thirty-minute massage to decide which route of treatment is best. This allows the therapist to become aware of tense or injured areas your pet may be suffering from and what they can do to help.

Some pets are immediately receptive and move their bodies on their own to show the therapist where they need work. Susan Hartzler’s dog Baldwin competed in agility and was the number one Puli in the United States in 2001. A knee injury brought his activity to a halt, but not for long. He now runs into his personal therapist’s arms with ease at Dog Paddle Wellness and Hydrotherapy in Pasadena, California; Baldwin even backs up into place for stretching on his own when he gets there.

Treatments vary from bath and grooming to ear cleaning and nail trimming, and of course, massage. While it may seem extravagant to take your pet to the spa, there are a myriad of benefits to be had from a visit. Muscle strength and endurance can be built in the warm waters of a hydrotherapy pool for instance, while massage has been shown to help alleviate the aches and pains of both arthritis and old age.

Health Boost

Pet therapies provide both the pet and the owner with options, especially when the side effects presented from standard therapies are too risky, or when traditional medicine isn’t doing the trick.

Pet therapists can be solicited for surgery recovery, chronic pain cures, old age battles or simply health maintenance. Acupuncture is one way to possibly get your pet up and moving at his fullest potential. “People are usually surprised at how well their pets do with needles”, says Dr. Jennifer Pearson, veterinarian at Rocky Mountain Small Animal Hospital in Littleton, Colorado. Pet acupuncture assists your pet’s efforts to heal through physiological changes based on the “ancient Chinese medical philosophy that disease is a result of an imbalance of energy in the body”, says Gary Levy, former president of American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture. Acupuncture helps balance energy by stimulating circulation, relieving chronic pain, and releasing endorphins. To locate a veterinary acupuncturist near you contact the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture office by visiting

Massage Therapy

Hickman explains that massage is great for an animal’s physical and emotional well-being. Among the benefits, massage provides relaxation, increases balance and coordination, and boosts blood flow. Dr. Jennifer Cermak, author of The Home Spa Book for Dogs (Quarry Books, 2005), and owner of Yankee Dog Retreat in North Reading, Massachusetts, suggests using massages as a training tool. “I often use a massage to help me trim my dog’s nails”, said Cermak. Taking your pooch to a designated “massage corner” can become a sign for an accomplishment after the dreaded nail trimming or bath.


Hydrotherapy is perfect for dogs; it allows them to swim and play in a structured, completely non-weight-bearing setting that helps to build endurance and muscle strength. And as opposed to a free swim in a lake, Hartzler adds that hydrotherapy tubs enable pets “to start off slowly and build up, stretching and measuring muscle”, rather than bounding into a lake where they may become re-injured or overwhelmed by other dogs. In addition, athletic or high-energy dogs may find swimming to be a harder workout then land exercise. Dog water aerobics gives Ihlenfeldt the opportunity to be involved in Tory’s program by getting into the therapy pool with the therapist and her pooch. “I started doing this to get Tory more comfortable with swimming in the pool and continue to do so because I have so much fun interacting with my dogs in the pool.”

Pet Camps

Dying to go on vacation, but don’t know what to do with your pet? Take your pet to an interactive getaway. The pet-friendly Hotel Monaco in Portland, Oregon, provides your pet with a special bed, treats, and walks or massages while you are away. Find other locations where your four-legged friend is treated like any other guest at

Pet spas are popping up all over the nation, spurring a new pet-wellness mentality. The pet care industry’s alternate route to a healthy and happy pet is slowly becoming a mainstream necessity in a pet’s lifestyle and with good reason. Whether you want to give the spa a shot for health benefits or bonding purposes, a pet spa experience has the ability to create a whole new pet before your eyes. Help your faithful companion stay healthy and relaxed with his or her own well-deserved royal treatment in the lap of luxury. The doggy robe may come in just as handy as your pup’s leash.


Yankee Dog Retreat
North Reading, MA, (617) 710-8810

Ritzy Canine Carriage House
New York, NY, (212) 949-1818

Aqua Dog
Kent, WA, (253) 630-3340

The Farm at Natchez Trace
Franklin, TN, (615) 662-6628

Waldenway: Canine & Kitty Camp Inc.
Manitoba, Canada, (204) 422-8344

Holiday Barn Pet Resort
Glen Allen, VA, (804) 672-2200

Oswego Hotel
Victoria, British Columbia, (866) 602-1447

Take it Home: Rules for Home Spa Pampering:

1. At the top of the list is, of course, plenty of love and attention.

2. Often overlooked, be sure to brush your pet’s teeth and gums with toothbrush and toothpaste (specially formulated for animals).

3. Don’t let your pet smell like a trashcan. Give your pet a good scrub down with gentle, edible, non-toxic shampoos and conditioners. Let bath time be fun.

4. A good scratch behind the ear is enough to get your pooch groaning, but step it up a notch. Take your pet spa council seriously and learn massage techniques that you can practice at home.

5. Create a special space for your pet. Your cat and dog deserve their own pillow and blanket.

6. Like to cook? Keep your pet’s meals healthy too. Your pet will jump through hoops for a good treat.

7. Exercise is the key to good health. Learn new hiking trails or play with your kitty so she doesn’t just hide, but actually seeks

8. Focus, focus. Look up local Doggy Yoga locations for intense relaxation, stretching, bonding, and obedience practice. Your pet may teach you a trick or two.

9. We can’t live without water and neither can your pet. Share that purified water in their special water bowl.

10. Let your buddy enjoy the tunes too. The soothing sound of music can lure you and your well-rested pet to sleep.

By Talia Goldenberg

Healing Lifestyles & Spas Team
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